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People listen to a band on July 23, 2021 on the 75th Street Boardwalk in Chatham on the South Side, a Black community where reinvestment is slowly happening.

People listen to a band on July 23, 2021 on the 75th Street Boardwalk in Chatham on the South Side, a Black community where reinvestment is slowly happening.

Pat Nabong

Column: Black Chicago is still waiting for investment

America is losing its Black spaces.

An analysis of decennial census data shows there was a net decline in the number of majority-Black census tracts across the nation between 2010 and 2020, from roughly 6,150 to about 5,730. To ensure the analysis was comparing apples to apples, geographically, I compared racial demographic data from 2010 and 2020 using census tract boundaries used in 2010.

It’s the first time the country has witnessed a net loss of such Black areas since at least 1990. Conversely, majority-Latino and majority-Asian census tracts increased nationwide between 2010 and 2020.

It’s not a matter of declining Black population. The number of Black Americans grew by 6% — from about 37.7 million to about 40 million — during that decade.

In particular, the loss of Black spaces is happening in America’s largest cities, including New York City, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

Between 2010 and 2020, Brooklyn witnessed a net loss of more than 40 majority-Black census tracts. More than 25 majority-Black areas disappeared in D.C., and Los Angeles County lost more than 20 majority-Black spaces.

Chicago is not far behind, with a net loss of almost 20 majority-Black census tracts between 2010 and 2020.

Why?

Many blame gentrification. Soaring housing prices have long been blamed for Black displacement in Harlem, Brooklyn and other parts of New York City; the historic Black neighborhood surrounding Howard University in Washington D.C.; and Black sections of South L.A.

Things are a little different in Chicago.

Gentrification happens slower in Chicago’s Black communities, compared to what we’ve seen in the Black spaces of other cities.

While Chicago saw its Black population decline more than any other U.S. city between 2000 and 2010 — by nearly 180,000, or 17% — the city only lost about 3% of its majority-Black census tracts during that span. Despite the population falling in Black areas, there weren’t many others rushing in to replace those Black residents. Segregation, it seems, helped maintain those Black spaces.

However, the pace of declining Black spaces is speeding up. The city lost more than 6% of its majority-Black census tracts between 2010 and 2020 — and not just because of gentrification.

Disinvestment dooms Black neighborhoods

For every Black census tract that has fallen to gentrification, another three or four have been lost to disinvestment — the fallout of foreclosures, a lack of neighborhood amenities, few job opportunities and worries about crime. Instead of being pushed out, many Black families have decided to get out in pursuit of better living conditions.

The available and affordable housing stock in those declining Black enclaves has attracted many Latino families, including those who were priced out of gentrifying neighborhoods. Black sections of Austin, Chicago Lawn, Humboldt Park, New City and West Englewood have become an oasis for Latino families looking for affordable rental housing or an opportunity to purchase a home.

While some of the people have changed, those areas on the South and West sides remain largely unchanged, and they look decidedly different than the areas that have gone from Black to white or from Latino to white.

Parts of the Near North Side, the South Loop and the West Loop were underdeveloped Black spaces in the 1990s and early 2000s. Now, they’re some of the city’s most electric neighborhoods, loaded with trendy bars, swanky condos and soaring housing values.

In some ways, it all feels cyclical.

After restrictive covenants fell in the middle of the 20th century, Black families stretched out from Bronzeville to many parts of the South and West sides. From the 1950s through the 1970s, as white families fled those areas, Black families bought homes, enrolled their children in schools and claimed those neighborhoods along with a piece of the American Dream.

However, that picture of prosperity and economic growth eventually evaporates, and the common denominator appears to be the flow of white residents.

When white people move in, investment usually follows — new construction, shops, entertainment — leading to increasing demand and housing values. The opposite is true when white people move out. Over time, the investment fades — fewer jobs, businesses and loans — leading to stagnant housing prices, less desirable conditions and population loss.

There’s so much available land in Black Chicago. There’s so much potential. And despite the declining population, there’s a market waiting for the investment that will keep Black residents in place and draw others back to the communities they’ve called home.

It shouldn’t require the interest of white residents for the private sector to see value or opportunity in Black communities.

Alden Loury is data projects editor for WBEZ and writes a monthly column for the Sun-Times.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com

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